The Pity of War

The Pity of War

A 14-year-old Afghan girl is inadvertently killed by shrapnel from a U.S. mortar strike (Time)

The “worst possible thing” happened in northern Marjah district. A 14-year-old Afghan girl was killed by a U.S. mortar strike on a village compound thought to be harboring Taliban gunmen — the most brutal civilian casualty imaginable.

It had been the usual cat-and-mouse game — a Marine unit was pinned down by insurgent gunfire and called for a tactical response — but the eventual outcome was unintended and tragic. Shortly after the explosion, a man told the soldiers that his niece had died but, fearing an ambush, they were reluctant at first to investigate. Later that day, however, a tractor arrived carrying the body of the slain girl, her father and her family. The Taliban, they said, come there, shoot at U.S. troops, and quickly leave — but it is the villagers who pay the price.

This short but powerful audio slideshow, with images by Time Magazine photographer Adam Ferguson, succinctly captures the anguish felt by both victims and perpetrators when warfare results in civilian casualties. The camera has remarkable access, and follows the entire event, from the Taliban attack to the meeting held by flashlight in the family hut to offer condolences to the relatives. Ferguson’s dispassionate voiceover narration blends with the sounds of battle.

Thoughtful touches, such as having the screen go black when the deadly mortar is fired, and including translated dialogue from the incident itself, give the piece a sense of presence. Although the soldiers are clearly upset by the error, they can only offer apologies and “compensation” to be worked out later. As the girl’s father put it, “What can I do with sorry?”

CHANNEL: Time

Photography by Adam Ferguson
Producer/Editor: Patrick Witty
Editor/Supervising Producer: Craig Duff

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